Best Latin Study Tools # 2: Method of Loci

This post details an “old” memorization method, one used by St. Thomas Aquinas, among many others, “back in the day.” (So you know it has to be good!) It’s not just for medieval scholastics, though: it will help your Latin studies in A.D. 2020 and beyond. I first learned about it from Dr. Kevin Vost’s book Memorize the Faith (reviewed here).

How to use this method? It’s simple: to memorize a list of words, say, your daily Latin lesson’s vocabulary words, you will use imagination and humor and the memory of places you know well to create a mental map. This memory method has primarily been used for memorizing lists of things, in order, such as books of the Bible, etc. So not only will you remember your words, using your mental maps, but you will also remember them in the exact order that you arrange for your examples.

It’s clear as mud now. Okay, as an example, I will show you how I could use my kitchen to help me memorize a new list of vocabulary words.

My kitchen is tiny. When you walk in from the living room you see the sink and dishwasher and refrigerator, and cupboards above and around them. Across from them are the stove and oven, and a few more cupboards for cookie sheets, towels, and measuring cups and spoons. So far so good: I have my mental map of my chosen place. Now I need some words to memorize.

Here’s a sample list of Latin words:

  • dedit: gave
  • ad: to/towards
  • agnus: lamb
  • dixit: said
  • mundus: world
  • nauta: sailor
  • fuit: was
  • habuit: had
  • navis: ship
  • sed: but

So the first thing I do is go to the entrance to my kitchen (mentally). The first word on the list is “dedit.” I’ll imagine I gave my elbow a nasty whack on the doorframe and snarled “Dedit!” instead of…a swear word. Next I look towards the counter and see an odd newspaper ad there. I walk to pick up the ad. On it is a boy and a girl. The girl is holding a lamb in her arms and sneezing, “Agnus!” The boy is holding a Confederate battle flag in his other hand, a speech bubble and some musical notes indicate that after she sneezed he saidDixit” very loudly and started whistling Dixie.* Across the room on the opposite counter by the sink I can see a globe, the beautiful blue and green world, that has got silver glitter all over it. “Moon dust,” ( which sounds like mundus) my daughter says the glitter is. Right next to the globe by the sink is my phone. Turning it on I see that my husband has sent me a funny video of a mouse in a sailor suit running here-and-there in a ship-shaped maze, now to (prounounced like nauta) find cheese, now to find nuts and seeds. Then I turn to the window where I could hear the neighbor whistling, “Fuit!” to his dog, which was a black one and was running fast. Besides the whistling to the dog, I can hear the rumbling of my fridge in the kitchen. On the door of the fridge, which sits on the right side of the sink, is my calendar from the Benedictine Abbey. Flipping throught it, I saw that each nun on every page had a beautiful traditional habit (think habuit). I open the calendar-covered door. Inside the fridge is a can of navy (navis) beans with a clipper ship on the can. But I decide not to eat them and shut the door again–my husband said (sed) they smelled moldy.

Ten words—ten spots in my kitchen to tag those words to with humorous images and sounds! That’s a very simplified run-down of how to use the Method of Loci. The book I mentioned above, Memorize the Faith, is a great resource for helping you learn how to use this memory aid with lists of things such as books of the Bible, the virtues, etc. In language-learning, using this method with a list of vocabulary words can lead you to tweak the basic process. For example, since Latin has three genders for its nouns, I like to assign a special room in my house to each new noun that I learn, depending on its gender. I’m sure there’s lots more that a creative and clever mind can come up with!

I think it’s a lot of fun to use the Method of Loci to learn and remember–at first it seems like it takes a lot of work, but it is extraordinarily effective, uses creative thinking, and builds your memory in an enjoyable way. Add it to your arsenal of strategies for conquering Latin and enjoy!

* I’m an American living in the beautiful Southeastern region of these U.S.A., so this item reflects that–it’s a regional thing!)

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